Private Investigator License Requirements


The profession of a private investigator is one that many of us have only heard about on television and in movies. The media glamorizes it, as it does many other professions. Nevertheless, the reality is that many people in the United States make a living working as private investigators (PIs). The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2010 there were 34,700 private investigators. Experts predict that number will grow by 21% in 2020, to approximately 41,900 private investigators.

private investigator liscense requirements

One of the most frequently asked questions when considering a profession as a private investigator is “Do you need a license to be a private investigator?”. The truth is that all but seven states require their private investigators to have a license. Only Alabama, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota do not require licensure of private investigators.

Only Alabama, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota do not require licensure of private investigators

While these seven states don’t require licensure at the state level, licensing at the local level is required in Wyoming, Alabama and Alaska. State licensure in Colorado is voluntary.

The licensing requirements will vary from state to state. Some states permit private investigators to undergo firearms training and carry weapons before they can receive licensure. However, the education and experience requirements for state licensure will change according to the state issuing the license.

The basic requirements usually are that the person desiring a PI license must be at least 21 years old, be a high school graduate, be a U.S. citizen or resident, be a person who has not received a dishonorable discharged from the military and not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions which involve crimes of “moral turpitude.”

With regards to education, some states require the possession of an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or related major. It is common for states to allow substitution of experience for education, depending on what it is and how the applicant earned it. It is possible to get a private investigator license in Oklahoma with no experience, as long as the person completes training that the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) approved. New Hampshire allows a candidate to substitute two years of experience with education permitting candidates with an associate’s degree in criminal justice to use their education to substitute for two of the four years’ experience usually required.

Licensing boards will vary from state to state, so it is important to know which board will be able to provide you with licensure for your state. While California licenses applications go through the Department of Consumer Affairs, states such as New Jersey and New Hampshire have the licensure of their private investigators through the state police.

Your state may consider experience from other fields, as long as you have not previously worked as a private investigator. For instance, experience as a law enforcement official at the local, state or federal level would transfer. Other professions with useful experience are officers in a security company, claims investigators or drivers for a security company. This could mean that someone who worked for a security service that delivered cash or received cash in an armored truck may be able to use that experience when applying for a license as a private investigator.

Receiving your PI License

While each person wishing to become a PI must gain the minimum educational and experience requirements prior to applying for licensure, the next steps are completing the application and passing the examination. It is important to mention that generally prior to taking the examination, the applicant must undergo a thorough background investigation, including having their fingerprints taken.

Many states will also require that the applicant provide both personal and professional references as part of the application process. People who know you on a personal and professional level should write these references. They should address your integrity and ethical behavior, and how that would be applicable to the job of private investigator.

Pennsylvania, however, has a unique licensure procedure wherein the PI must contact the Clerk of Courts in the county where they reside in order to request a court date and apply for a license.

Additionally, the PI may need to apply for a surety bond in some states. This bond applies to some professions and protects their clients from any financial liability that may result from fraud.

Though generally licenses can’t be transferred from state to state, private investigators, much like lawyers, may be able to enter into reciprocity agreements with other states. The states that engage in the reciprocity agreements include Georgia, Tennessee, California, Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Oklahoma.

Maintaining Your PI License

Once the applicant has obtained licensure, the private investigator, like many other licensed professionals, must comply with the state’s continuing educational requirements to retain the licensure.

You must check with your individual state to determine what is required to maintain your licensure.

If you’re licensed in a state that requires continuing education credits (CEU), you will want to ensure that your board of licensure recognizes the CEUs you want to take. Many of the training programs are accessible online to make it easier for you to fulfill the requirements. This saves time, and ensures that the courses won’t overburden you with the time and effort spent on travel to attend in-person. Furthermore, some of the classes are available to those who are not licensed private investigators and may be beneficial to those persons interested in learning more about the field of private investigating.

Many CEU companies offer a variety of courses, ensuring that you don’t have to take the same courses over again. They develop their courses with industry experts to provide the most up-to-date information, information that is not only accurate, but also pertinent to the issues that are important and critical to the times in which we live.

While initially it may seem that these types of courses could be burdensome to you, they can actually be very enlightening and provide you with knowledge that will enhance your day-to-day practice and make you a better private investigator. Some of the courses are interactive, and you often have the options of either taking the courses at a specified location near you or viewing the course remotely.

Licensure Requirements by State

In addition to renewing their licensure, many states will require that private investigators update their background check results periodically. They may also require the recertification of firearms training. For example, Oklahoma’s CLEET requires its private investigators to receive 16 hours of additional educational training during the two-year licensure period.

Oklahoma, under CLEET, issues a three-year license for new applicants with two-year renewals. Applicants aren’t permitted to renew their licenses unless they have completed the required education. The 16 hours of required educational training is greater than the education required by either armed or unarmed security guards.

In Kentucky, for instance, the board may require that the person renewing their license show proof of continuing education. If they are unable to provide that proof, they may not be able to renew their license. In Iowa, a private investigator must be able to show that they have completed twelve hours of continuing education during their licensing period of two years. If they are unable to show that they completed the twelve hours of education, they will receive a 30-day provisional license. What this means is that they must be able to prove that they have completed the twelve hours of education during that 30 days. Otherwise, the board will deny their application for renewal. This has the potential for putting both their livelihood and their career in jeopardy, so it would be wise to complete the education early on during the period of the two-year license.

Furthermore, Iowa must approve the CE classes as acceptable education for purposes of private investigator licensure. It is important to check with the company who is providing you with the education to ensure that the state accepts their classes. You may also read the state’s statutes to learn how many hours as well as the nature of the specific course requirements.

Alabama requires that its private investigators keep a record of and complete sixteen hours of continuing education during the two-year licensure period. Interestingly, two hours of these required courses must be in the subject matter of ethics.

Texas differs from the other states in that it requires private investigators who have worked in the profession in the state of Texas with a licensure of a minimum of 15 continuous years to complete 12 hours of continuing education every two years in order to be able to renew the license after a two-year period. Eight hours must focus on the specialty for which they are licensed. Two hours must consist of ethics, and another two relate to statutes and regulations.

In Tennessee, a private investigator has the option to retire a license that is in good standing with the commission that issues the licenses. Only upon proof of completion of continuing educational may the licensing commission reactivate the license. After the commission has received the appropriate fees and proof that the PI has satisfied the continuing legal educational requirements, the licensee’s gets their status upgraded to active.

And while many probably believe that the role of the private investigator is most likely to involve following cheating spouses to hotel rooms, modern technology has proven that private investigators in the 21st century do much more than that.

The State of Texas actually requires that their computer forensics examiners to obtain private investigator licenses. Other states have also started requiring that computer forensics examiners be licenses as private investigators. This particular licensing requirement may cause difficulties especially when forensics examiners are traveling out of state. The reciprocity agreements for licensed PIs may come into play creating a complexity not often seen the field of the private investigator prior to the evolution of computer forensics.

Opponents of this licensure requirement believe that the licensure adds nothing to the quality of the work of the computer forensic examiners. They argue that the traditional private investigator is no more qualified to conduct the work of the forensics examiner than the examiner is qualified to do the surveillance work of the private investigator. They are asking why the same licensure should be required for the very different occupations.

Clearly, computer forensic examiners must meet difficult certification requirements in their profession. But opponents of the requirement question whether licensing them as private investigators rather than another profession is truly the most appropriate means of accrediting them.

Deciding How to Maintain Your Private Investigators License Using the Continuing Education Requirement

If you are currently a private investigator, it no matter which state you live in, there is a great likelihood that you will need a license. And if you must have a license to practice, many of the states license their investigators for short periods of time (such as two years). During that period, depending on your state’s requirement, you will likely be required to obtain continuing education.

If you are committed to being able to renew your license, and that license is contingent upon completing your continuing educational requirement, you must decide upon the best company that your state’s licensing board recognizes as providing continuing education. You will also want to ensure that the company you pick is reputable, offers a variety of courses and offers courses that will not only benefit you personally but will also professionally. It is vital that experts in the field teach these courses, to better enhance your educational experience.

You should consider picking a company that meets all of those qualifications. That is why you will want to investigate StateCE. They offer courses for a variety of professionals and have assisted over “100,000 professionals since 2001.” Additionally, their state-of-the-art technology enables them to provide you with classes that you can take from the comfort of your own home. Additionally, StateCE will submit your credits to the appropriate licensing agency in your state by the end of the next business day after your completion of the classes.